I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
1 Corinthians 15:31
What does Paul mean by this?
I don’t plan to take this passage out of its original context, but it presents a stark contrast to the rest of the message Paul conveys. In the first portion of 1 Corinthians 15, we see Paul reiterating the facts of the matter in regards to Christ’s resurrection:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Paul, apparently, has an exhaustive mind for detail. We receive the exact summation that, if we were so inclined, we can observe in the Gospels themselves. It’s obvious that he has knowledge of some of these books (or similar ones) when saying this – remember, he was not present during the time of Christ’s resurrection, nor his various appearances. He was taking most of this knowledge second-hand after his own conversion experience. But, and here’s the key point, he believes that without the resurrection of the dead, faith is completely in vain. Of course, Paul believes this:
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man camedeath, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comesthe end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? 30 Why are we also in danger every hour?
And we finally reach the eponymous verse shown above. Honestly, I’ve been trying to decipher this verse in the context where it sits, and I have found it difficult to understand what Paul means. Why does he die daily? As much as many people have taken the meaning of this verse as some sort of spiritual ascription, I am not buying. For one, why all the talk of the Resurrection prior to it? Does it say anywhere else that we “die daily” suddenly? And to what? If it’s a spiritual component, than the person dies in the flesh daily – that’s an assumption, I suppose. The New American Standard Bible makes this overly confusing, to be sure. The English Standard Version makes things a little clearer:
29 Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? 31 I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Now, Bible translations clearly reflect the interpretations of the translators and their ideological intent – note the “brother and sisters” line, which surely wasn’t both genders in the original text. Still, it’s obvious that resurrection and rebirth, in various forms, remains the crux of the whole Christian faith – without it, a hedonist lifestyle surely wouldn’t be out of the question. But that one verse still remains – to die daily. Does Paul mean this as a metaphor to reinforce his point, or does this mean something more? Paul boasts in Christ that he dies daily, yet what does that mean in the particular? Matthew Henry’s devout commentary says as such:
He was in continual danger of death, and carried his life, as we say, in his hand. And why should he thus expose himself, if he had no hopes after life? To live in daily view and expectation of death, and yet have no prospect beyond it, must be very heartless and uncomfortable, and his case, upon this account, a very melancholy one. He had need be very well assured of the resurrection of the dead, or he was guilty of extreme weakness, in hazarding all that was dear to him in this world, and his life into the bargain.
So this doesn’t necessarily mean death by spiritual growth in Henry’s interpretation. Rather, the early Christian community believed and hoped with such fervor that, as a consequence, to die daily was to recognize the fragility of their own lives but by the grace of God. This does not seem to be the modern understanding of said verse. Rather, it apparently refers to the idea of “spiritual growth” rather than the ever-present existential threat of death. We can see this was true of even the early Protestants; as John Calvin writes about said verse:
I die daily Such a contempt of death he declares to be in himself, that he may not seem to talk bravely when beyond the reach of danger. “I am every day,” says he, “incessantly beset with death. What madness were it in me to undergo so much misery, if there were no reward in reserve for me in heaven? Nay more, if my glory and bliss lie in this world, why do I not rather enjoy them, than of my own accord resign them?” He says that he dies daily, because he was constantly beset with dangers so formidable and so imminent, that death in a manner was impending over him. A similar expression occurs in Psalm 44:22, and we shall, also, find one of the same kind occurring in the second Epistle. (2 Corinthians 11:23.)
By our glory. The old translation reads propter, (because of,) but it has manifestly arisen from the ignorance of transcribers; for in the Greek particle there is no ambiguity. It is then an oath, by which he wished to arouse the Corinthians, to be more attentive in listening to him, when reasoning as to the matter in hand. “Brethren, I am not some philosopher prattling in the shade. As I expose myself every day to death, it is necessary that I should think in good earnest of the heavenly life. Believe, therefore, a man who is thoroughly experienced.”
It is also a form of oath that is not common, but is suited to the subject in hand. Corresponding to this was that celebrated oath of Demosthenes, which is quoted by Fabius, when he swore by the Shades of those who had met death in the field of Marathon, while his object was to exhort them to defend the Republic. So in like manner Paul here swears by the glory which Christians have in Christ.Now that glory is in heaven. He shows, then, that what they called in question was a matter of which he was so well assured, that he was prepared to make use of a sacred oath — a display of skill which must be carefully noticed.
Or, you might say, the very existence of the Gospel and its message gives us an utter contempt and disdain for death, for we know that we live it eternally. We and all humankind live on the precipice, yet we walk what Wittgenstein would say of a religious thinker:
He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slenderest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it.
We must find it impossible to allow death the victory. We must constantly struggle against its grasp for the victory has been won. It is the mere recognition of that victory that leads us to Christ. Thus, we struggle and move against whatever forces rise against and, in time, conquer. That’s sounds slightly war-like, doesn’t it? Yet this metaphorical imagery was used throughout the Bible (Paul’s own “Armor of God” narrative in Ephesians should give us enough justification).
In that same way, video games allow us a peek into this “dying daily”. In such entertainment media, we see a constant struggle between life and death, victory and defeat. Some games stretch the limits of visual perception (bullet-hell shooters, for example) or the speed of our reflexes. Such games that demand skill punish the player for his/her faults with a Game Over – that perennial marker of failure.
Yet, failure isn’t the end – instead, the player resolves to go once more into the breach, difficulties be darned. Whatever the obstacle that lies before us, a gamer plays with the conviction that the mechanics were designed in a way that they can succeed if they try hard enough and learn the game well enough. That’s a unique feeling. We might say, then, that this reveals a central thesis: games without challenge and without Game Over fail to challenge us to “die daily” – instead, they give us what “we” want for a short time, and then pass away.
What greater problem can their be than to make games that don’t reflect the reality of life?